Being Realistic About Radical Islamic Terror

David Cameron, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, was totally correct—being thoroughly realistic—when he spoke last week about the “poisonous, radical death cult” of radical Islam.

Cameron was speaking at a press conference with U.S. President Barack Obama. His words on radical Islam came after Obama said that “intelligence and military force alone will not solve this problem. We will keep working together on strategies to counter violent extremism”—Obama always avoids saying Islamic violent extremism—“that radicalizes recruits and mobilizes young people to engage in terrorism…A critical weapon against terrorism is our adherence to our freedoms and values at home, including the pluralism and respect and tolerance that defines us as diverse and democratic societies.”

“I agree with what Barack says about the importance of building strong and integrated societies,” declared Cameron. It is “vitally important” but “here is the determining point. You can have people who have had all the economic opportunities our countries can offer, who still get seduced by this poisonous, radical death cult of a narrative we have seen in recent weeks.”

“People have gone to fight in Syria who had every opportunity and every advantage in life in terms of integration,” Cameron noted.

“Let’s never lose sight of the real enemy here, which is the poisonous narrative perverting Islam. That is what we have to focus on,” said Cameron. He stressed: “Let’s never lose sight of the heart of the matter.”

Since the 9/11 attacks—and in the wake of the murders at Charlie Hebdo—there has been some attempting to steer away from this “heart of the matter” of radical Islam.

“The terrorist attack in France that took place at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was not about free speech. It was not about radical Islam,” insisted Chris Hedges in an article titled “A Message From the Dispossessed” on ”It did not illustrate the fictitious clash of civilizations. It was a harbinger of an emerging dystopia where the wretched of the earth, deprived of resources to survive, devoid of hope, brutally controlled, belittled and mocked by the privileged who live in the splendor and indolence of the industrial West, lash out in nihilistic fury.”

Writing for Aljazeera, Professor Mark LeVine of the University of California, Irvine blamed it on colonialism in an article headed “Why Charlie Hebdo attack is not about Islam.” He wrote: “Where does the story begin? Quite simply with colonialism. It’s no mere coincidence that at least two of the Charlie Hebdo attackers are reportedly of Algerian descent and the third from Senegal.”

It has been hard for many to recognize that we are in a clash comparable to the global battle 80 years ago against Nazism.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had it totally correct—and was being thoroughly realistic—when he told the UN General Assembly in September that “militant Islam’s ambition to dominate the world seems mad, but so too did the global ambitions of another fanatic ideology that swept into power eight decades ago. The Nazis believed in a master race. The militant Islamists believe in a master faith. They just disagree who among them will be the master of the master faith. That’s what they truly disagree about.” Netanyahu, in his speech, stated to the world delegates that “the question before us is whether militant Islam will have the power to realize its unbridled ambitions.”

Netanyahu emphasized that “the world’s hopes for peace are in danger because everywhere we look militant Islam is on the march. It’s not Islam. It’s militant Islam. And typically its first victims are other Muslims, but it spares no one: Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Kurds. No creed, no faith, no ethnic group is beyond its sights. And it is rapidly spreading in every part of the world.”

He quoted a statement earlier in the year of the “self-declared caliph” of ISIS, Abu Bakr al Baghadadi: “A day will soon come when the Muslim will walk everywhere as a master. The Muslims will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism and destroy the idol of democracy.”

Among radical Islam, said Netanyahu, “Some are radical Sunnis, some are radical Shiites, some want to restore a pre-medieval caliphate from the seventh century, others want to trigger the apocalyptic return of an Imam from the ninth century. They operate in different lands, they target different victims and they even kill each other in their battle for supremacy. But they all share a fanatic ideology. They all seek to create ever-expanding enclaves of militant Islam where there is no freedom and no tolerance, where women are treated as chattel, Christians are decimated and minorities are subjugated, sometimes given the stark choice, convert or die. For them, anyone can be considered an infidel, including fellow Muslims.”

This is all a very frightening specter. And like 80 years ago with the rise of Nazism, there is an attempt to explain it without getting at the “heart of the matter.”

It was not about being “dispossessed” for Colonel Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, when he fatally shot 13 people and injured 30 more at Fort Hood in 2000. The Tsarnaev brothers didn’t do the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent shootings killing three and injuring 264, many seriously, because they were “dispossessed.”’ It is not about being “dispossessed” that Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in Syria and Iraq have been murdering people en masse. It was not about being “dispossessed” or “colonialism” for the 9/11 hijackers, well-educated, affiliated with Al Qaeda, 15 of the 19 from Saudi Arabia, killing  2,996 people. Religious fanaticism was and is the reality. The list goes on and on.

Eighty years ago, madness took hold in Germany and most of the world trembled.  Appeasement was far preferable to the then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain—and it didn’t work whatsoever. Hitler and his armies drove on in the Nazi plan for world domination.

Sometimes negotiations, education and what is called “conflict resolution” these days work to prevent and resolve conflict. For 20 years I was a member of the Commission for Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace of the United Nations and the International Association of University Presidents. The commission met regularly at the UN. Among other things, we developed a program in peace studies to be used at colleges and universities around the world. We sponsored retreats for peoples in conflict—two-week stays together designed to develop personal relationships that might override hostility towards each other. Among those joining together in this were Israelis and Palestinians. We studied instances in which nations went to extraordinary lengths and succeeeded in the pursuit of peace—such as Costa Rica’s abolition of its military in 1948 despite being in conflict-prone Central America. I coordinated two major conferences held by the commission.

And, yes, I still feel that, as the spiritual goes, people can “study war no more”—and instead study peace. The words are derived, of course, from the Biblical hope in Isaiah and Micah that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Swords can be turned into plowshares through acts of “confidence building” and negotiation. I still feel that the new strategies of conflict resolution can be applied with good outcomes to conflict between peoples and nations. Used in diplomacy today, conflict resolution has become a new academic field. Tel Aviv University offers two graduate programs in conflict resolution.

Yes, conflict resolution, negotiation and education can work—but not with radical Islamists any more than it could have worked 80 years ago with the Nazis.

You couldn’t stop the Nazis by trying to “educate” them. The world had to stand up and fight back—and has to do that again.

Ayaan Hrisi Ali, author of the book Infidel and the upcoming Heretic:The Case for a Muslim Reformation, and a fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School, penned an article titled “How to Answer the Paris Terror Attack”—that ran in the Wall Street Journal.

“After the horrific massacre…at the French weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, perhaps the West will finally put away its legion of useless tropes trying to deny the relationship between violence and radical Islam,” she wrote. “This was not an attack by a mentally deranged, lone-wolf gunman. This was not an ‘un-Islamic’ attack by a bunch of thugs—the perpetuators could be heard shouting that they were avenging the Prophet Muhammad. Nor was it spontaneous. It was planned to inflict maximum damage…It was designed to sow terror, and in that it has worked.,,,If there is a lesson to be drawn from such a grisly episode, it is that what we believe about Islam truly doesn’t matter. This type of violence, jihad, is what they, the Islamists, believe.”

Ali continued: “How we respond to this attack is of great consequence. If we take the position that we are dealing with a handful of murderous thugs with no connection to what they so vocally claim, then we are not answering them…,The West must not appease, it must not be silenced. We must send a united message to the terrorists: Your violence cannot destroy our soul.”

The world is facing a “poisonous, radical death cult”—the new Nazism—and has to deal with it and, although this will require a mammoth effort, stop it.

About the Author
Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury who has specialized in investigative reporting for 45 years. He is the host of the TV program “Enviro Close-Up,” the writer and presenter of numerous TV documentaries and the author of six books.